Sunday, April 4, 2010

The UK's Export Control System for Cultural Property

The need to control the export of cultural property from Great Britain was first noted at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Objects contained in private collections in the UK became the prey of American and German collectors and it was apparent that much important material was being drained away and sold abroad at prices far higher than those that could be afforded by UK public collections and private buyers. The setting up of a National Art Collections Fund to help purchase important objects which would otherwise be taken abroad was only a partial answer to the problem.

There were no legal controls on the export of works of art and other types of cultural property until 1939, when Parliament enacted the Import, Export and Customs Powers Act, and in 1940 this was extended to antiques and works of art. In 1950 a committee was established under the chairmanship of the First Viscount Waverley to create a policy on controlling the export of “works of art, books, manuscripts, armour and antiques” and amenns of putting it into action, which are still in place today.

An eight-person independent reviewing committee on the ‘Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest’ has existed since 1952 (Current members). This Committee is an independent non-statutory body whose role is to advise the Secretary of State in the following capacities: to supervise the operation of the export control system in general, to advise on the principles that should govern the export of works of art and antiques, to consider all cases where a refusal to grant a licence for a work of art or antique is suggested on grounds of national importance, and to advise where government purchase is the only way the object can be retained in the country.

The Committee’s deliberations on whether individual objects may be exported or not are guided by the three ‘Waverley Criteria’. At a hearing the applicant (exporter) and the expert advisors submit their cases at a hearingat which independent assessors of the relevant field are also temporarily seconded to the Committee. If the object meets at least one of the Waverly Criteria the Secretary of State is recommended to defer issuing an export licence to provide UK institutions or private buyers the chance to raise the money so that the item can remain in the country.

The Waverly Criteria:
· is it so closely connected with our history and national life that its departure would be a misfortune?
· is it of outstanding aesthetic importance?
· is it of outstanding significance for the study of some particular branch of art, learning or history?

Clare Maurice and Richard Turnor (1992) The Export Licensing Rules in the United Kingdom and the Waverley Criteria International Journal of Cultural Property (1992), 1:273-296

The Export of Objects of Cultural Interest 2008-09 Appendix A (pp52-4)

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